A shadow of fear, says Judge Mitchell Hattaway, is not unlike an adumbration of disquietude.
Tell someone your darkest secret and they own you.
Facts of the Case
Harrison French (Matt Davis, Blue Crush) is a desperate man. His real estate firm is strapped for cash and clients, and his father-in-law, Congressman Doug Henderson (Pete Coyote, Random Hearts), is tired of bailing him out. After losing out on a large deal, Harrison drowns his sorrows in bourbon, hops in his car, and accidentally kills a man. He drags the body to the side of the road and hides it; the next day, he discovers that the man he hit had recently robbed a bank. Hoping to find the money, Harrison returns to the scene of the accident, but he comes up empty. He later goes to the home of his in-laws; Margie Henderson (Alice Krige, Reign of Fire), his mother-in-law, believes that her junkie son might have played a part in the robbery. Harrison excuses himself and once again goes to look for the money, and is once again unsuccessful. While he is gone, Wynn (Robin Tunney, End of Days), his wife, discovers the clothes her husband was wearing the night of the accident.
Harrison goes to visit William Ashbury, an old Henderson family friend. Ashbury had been at the Henderson home the night Harrison and Wynn had dinner there; sensing something was troubling Harrison, Ashbury had told him he was available to help if he ever needed him. Ashbury and Harrison go for a drive, at which point Harrison tells him about the accident. Harrison, with Ashbury's help, manufactures evidence in hopes of covering his tracks. DNA evidence later proves that the man Harrison hit was his brother-in-law, and Harrison is brought in for questioning by Detective Scofield (Aidan Quinn, Practical Magic), who thinks Harrison murdered his wife's brother. Scofield's boss walks in during the interrogation and tells Harrison he's free to go; Scofield is incensed, but the chief tells him they have new evidence in the case.
Later that night Congressman Henderson informs his son-in-law of Ashbury's true nature, and Harrison learns exactly what Ashbury wants in return for his help: Ashbury expects Harrison to become his executioner.
Got all that? Good. Do you buy any of it? Neither do I. Shadow of Fear is another illogical thriller populated by poorly developed characters who spout ludicrous dialogue while caught up in ridiculous situations. My dog could write a better film, and my dog's dumber than a bag rocks (trust me—you should see what he's doing right now). I'm more than willing to suspend my disbelief, but I'm not willing to do it automatically; if filmmakers want me to suspend my disbelief, it's their responsibility to make me want to suspend it. The makers of Shadow of Fear, however, are the type of filmmakers who assume the audience is willing to accept anything. Sorry, guys, but that's not going to work here.
First of all, it's never really explained how Ashbury built or maintains his evil little empire. He has all the guys he's helped with their legal/ethical/moral problems working for him, and he's pulling some of the strings in the local government, but how'd he find himself in such a position? Does he have enough dirt on people to allow him to blackmail half the town? I also don't really understand the logic behind Ashbury's methods. He finds out one guy is having an affair, so he helps the guy cover up the affair; in exchange for this, the guy promises to help Ashbury's operation, but also agrees to keep cheating on his wife or else Ashbury will rat him out. Huh? Ashbury helped Congressman Henderson out of a little jam with the IRS; Henderson agreed to join Ashbury's team, but also agreed to keep cheating on his taxes. Does that make sense? Taking things a step further, would it make sense for a guy with Henderson's problems to run for office? You really think nobody in the press (or, for that matter, the opposing party) would dig up something from his past? Ashbury threatens to run to the cops if Harrison doesn't kill for him. Oh, yeah, that makes sense. This guy's running a criminal enterprise, and he's going to the cops to rat out somebody for murder—somebody he helped fabricate evidence in order to throw off the police. Doesn't he think the cops might to ask him a few questions? Would he really risk coming out from behind the scenes for that? Is he really that stupid? Oh, wait—he really is that stupid. After all, he is dumb enough to allow himself to be tripped up because his fax number is listed under his real name. Furthermore, I don't buy all the nonsense surrounding the identity of the man Harrison kills (turns out the dead man isn't really his brother-in-law). Harrison hits the guy, drags him into the woods, then goes back to the scene twice before the body is discovered by the cops, and he's still not sure if it's his brother-in-law? Please. But wait, it gets even better. When the cops do finally find the body, the guy's face is missing. See, Ashbury apparently cut the face off the corpse so the cops will have to rely on DNA to confirm the identity. This allows Ashbury to switch the blood samples, thus making the body appear to be that of Wynn's brother. Let's just forget about how stupid that whole notion is and think about this: Aren't there about nine thousand other ways you can attempt to identify a body, even if technically the identification is only a preliminary one? Whatever happened to airtight logic in thrillers? Where's Ernest Lehman when you need him?
Pretty much all the characters are dumb. Harrison is dumb enough to give Ashbury a loaded revolver and then stand in front of him and dare him to fire. That's always a good idea when you're dealing with a psychotic sociopath. Wynn's pretty slow in realizing her husband actually killed a guy (he tells her this the night it happens, but she ignores him because she's horny); she finds his muddy clothes, but thinks nothing of it. It's only after she discovers their dog chewing on her husband's muddy shoes that she starts to see the light. (You'd think the clothes would be a bigger hint; it's pretty easy to get your shoes muddy, but it's kinda hard to get mud all over a three-piece suit.) The other men being blackmailed by Ashbury are too dumb to just gang up on him. They seem to think he's untouchable, but that's ridiculous. You'd think at least one of them would get mad enough to just shoot him in the back of the head.
Here's one more thing. Wynn has a younger sister, Allison, who is played by Lacey Chabert (you might remember her from Party of Five). Allison (whose name, by the way, is screwed up in the end credits) is easily the film's most poorly written character, and she's also totally extraneous plot-wise. It's implied that she's a petty, venal, slutty troublemaker, but nothing is done with this. She goes to a debutantes' ball, dances with her brother-in-law, grabs his ass, and suggests they go upstairs and get a room. After that, she drops out of the film. Come on, you can't throw all that in without a payoff. You have to somehow let it play out. Hell, that might have even added a little spark to the film, but I guess that's a little too much to ask of the screenwriters (just like I guess it was too much to ask them to come up with a second act, or an ending).
The acting in Shadow of Fear is a bit of a mixed bag. Matt Davis's performance is incredibly bland; he doesn't even appear to be trying to make this work. Robin Tunney does little more than stand around with a deer-in-the-headlights look plastered across her face. James Spader is quite good in the type of role he now has down pat; he's so good he almost—almost—makes his awful dialogue work. Peter Coyote also turns in a nice performance; too bad he's given very little to do. The same can be said of Alice Krige, whose role must have required her to be on the set for about an hour. Aidan Quinn is way over-the-top, although I guess I can't blame him for playing down to the material. As far as Lacey Chabert is concerned, well, she certainly did a nice job growing up, although I'm sure her being saddled with such a pointless character has a lot to do with the quality of her performance.
The audio/video quality of the disc is much higher than I was expecting, especially from an obscure Lions Gate release. The anamorphic transfer is very pleasing, with deep blacks and rich, well-saturated colors, although it is somewhat marred by a little too much grain and edge enhancement. The film's audio tracks are mostly quiet and dialogue-driven, although the 5.1 track does contain a few nice examples of surround use (the opening rainstorm and the hit-and-run sound very good) and there's a nice spread to the piano-heavy score. The only extra is the film's trailer.
You've seen it all before, and you've certainly seen it done better. Don't waste your time on Shadow of Fear.
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